July 9, 2014

, ,

10 well designed Taiwan blogs

Being a blogger for over 6 years, I have seen a lot of blogs come and go, especially in the relatively small yet highly passionate Taiwan blogosphere in English language. That's partly because people move to Taiwan, live here for a while, and go back where they come from and stop updating, and partly because blogging changed a lot through the years, as I wrote in February:

I always thought of personal blogs to be a place where you write long elaborate posts with value and depth, something you'd love to read again in a couple of years and still enjoy every word of it. Social media (that sidelined blogging) changed all that. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and co. have made everybody a "microblogger". What used to be tools to get new readers redirected to your blog, have actually replaced blogs all together in many cases. There's a whole bunch of Taiwan centric blogs who were hugely popular a few years ago, but are now dead, or in a permanent coma. A lot of these former bloggers however continue to share Taiwan related stuff on Twitter and Facebook almost every day, continuing to spread their ideas on a different platform, and probably reaching more people that way, but becoming more shallow.

Nevertheless, blogging is not dead, and when it comes to Taiwan, it seems we're experiencing a new wave of highly motivated bloggers, who are interested to share some great Taiwan-related content with the world, and also present it in a modern and nice way. The first Taiwan blogs (which appeared between 2005-2009 way before the mobile revolution) did not place a lot of importance on design, but luckily this is changing with the new generation. I decided to introduce 10 interesting Taiwan blogs, that don't only impress with the content, but also with the design. Granted, some of them are not really new, but more like recently discovered by me, so they feel kind of new to me (and perhaps also to some of you).

My blog design preferences

Personally I prefer blogs with a simplistic design, one of my all time favorites in this regard is fellow East Asian expatriate blogger David behind Randomwire, who's blog was an inspiration for my recent redesign. Not coincidently, David is often writing about design, which shows that he's placing great importance on it. His blog has a responsive design, where the template adapts to different screen sizes (smartphone, tablet, desktop). It's a great feature that I finally managed to add to my blog this year. Randomwire offers well written and rich content related to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most recently Japan, and the photos are always of top quality. This is the closest to what I would call a perfect life and travel blog. I'm pointing that out, because I want to highlight my preferences, which are reflected in the list below.

Randomwire is the blog of David - a British technologist living and working in Tokyo.

Now, you might prefer English language Taiwan blogs that design-wise haven't changed a lot since they were established and seem to be fine with default templates offered by Google, or you like Taiwan blogs that are rich in color and full with links, so maybe the ones I listed below are not very interesting to you, and that's quite alright. You're welcome to list Taiwan blogs of your design preference in the comment section.


URL: http://www.dadaocheng.tw

This blog is definitely the top contender for the best new Taiwan blog, and the blogger or people behind this site have put a lot of effort in design. The blog is great to read on iPhone and especially iPad. You can swipe to the right like in an app. On the bottom right corner is a link to a pop-up window that leads to a photo collection. I hope this blog keeps on going and producing great content. I love Dadaocheng.


URL: http://www.thestinkytofu.com
DATE OF ORIGIN: December 2013

The Stinky Tofu is a magazine style blog, where several bloggers contribute articles related to food, culture, lifestyle, politics, and recent events in Taiwan. It's a content rich blog, which is nicely packed. Unfortunately, it's not that good to read on iPad (my preferred reading tool), but it's excellent on iPhone.


URL: http://synapticism.com

Synapticism is a personal blog by Alexander Synaptic, who is a designer and photographer currently based in Tainan, and passionate for travel and Taiwan just like me. Synapticism comes with a simplistic design, but it's rich with filtered photos and detailed posts. It's a great resource on Taiwan, especially on Southern Taiwan, and one of my favorite new discoveries.


URL: http://taiwanlovescoffee.com
DATE OF ORIGIN: April 2014

I love coffee, and this blog is becoming a great resource for coffee lovers like me. The layout looks great on desktop and iPad, on iPhone it turns into the default mobile Wordpress template, which is not bad, but could be better. Nevertheless, this is a great blog, and I'm looking forward to many more updates.


URL: http://thethousandthgirl.com
DATE OF ORIGIN: December 2013

Stephanie Hsu is one of my favorite Taiwan bloggers, not only because she's really nice and lovely, but also because she loves Taipei just like me, and because her blog is very informative and beautifully designed. The highlight is definitely the mobile version, which feels like a native app. The only thing that I would change is I would remove the automatic Google Translate bar, I think it's not necessary, and it just distracts the overall perfect design.


URL: http://taiwanesehasgotcharacter.wordpress.com

This brand new and very specific blog is beautifully designed, and when it comes to content, probably one of a kind in Taiwan's English blogosphere. I really commend the blogger for the effort he puts in explaining Taiwanese language through Chinese characters in a way that is easy for us non-Taiwanese speakers to understand. This blog should be definitely on your radar, if you're passionate about Taiwan.


URL: http://taiwanvore.com
DATE OF ORIGIN: February 2012

This blog written by a French girl living in Kaohsiung should be bookmarked by all foreign gourmands who are living, or planning to live in Taiwan's southern metropolis. This is probably the best English language food blog related to Kaohsiung. It's beautifully designed with warm colors and a user friendly layout. It's definitely one of the best Taiwan blogs out there, and the blogger is very lovely. Go subscribe!


URL: http://zhongruige.wordpress.com
DATE OF ORIGIN: October 2009

This blog with a focus on Chinese language is not new, but I have been following it since recently. The design reminds me of articles published on Medium that always come with a large header photo, which I like very much. En Route To Fluency is highly informative and often entertaining, because it connects learning Chinese with contemporary examples from life in Taiwan. I often learn something new. You definitely have to subscribe to this one, if you're into Taiwan.


URL: http://litanies.net/blog

Litanies is a blog with a simple design, but great depth and complexity when it comes to content. The articles are well written and well researched, the photos are amazingly good, this blog is simply a feast for the eyes. The updates are not as frequent as some other blogs out there, but in this case it's a good thing, because the focus is on quality.


URL: http://trickytaipei.com

Tricky Taipei is the youngest blog on the list, it just launched a few days ago. Besides the interesting name, and the unusual title font, the blogger likes simplicity. There's not a lot of content yet, but what is published looks promising. Keep an eye on Tricky Taipei, I'm sure it will grow and evolve quite quickly.

In conclusion

The English language blogs related to Taiwan are experiencing another boom right now. Go and subscribe, follow on social media, interact and share, so that they keep on going. To discover more Taiwan blogs, check out my List of Taiwan blogs, which is updated regularly, and it's probably the best list of its kind right now. Have fun!

*All screen caps taken with my iPad.

June 28, 2014

, , , ,

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun's visit to Taiwan

Photo of Minister Zhang nearly hit by white paint. Originally appeared in Apple Daily.

The protests against China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun in Greater Kaohsiung yesterday turned bloody, reports Taipei Times. Zhang's 4 day long visit (from 25. to 28. June) made history, because it was the first government level visit from China to Taiwan since 1949, when communists established the PRC. Due to the complicated bilateral relations between these two countries, this visit wasn't without controversy among a lot of people in Taiwan. Here an excerpt from the article describing an incident, one of many these days (I shortened the original paragraph):

A high-school student surnamed Yen said he and a friend were trying to throw drinks at a car carrying Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang when they were dragged away by police. A man named Chuang tried to help them, but tripped and fell. “And when Chuang was on the ground, police rushed toward him, pressed his body down and rammed his head to the ground like a ball, breaking his glasses and injuring his head,” WRP chief executive Chen said. The groups said that the police’s use of force was unnecessary and accused the government of treating the public as its enemies.

Not to condone excessive police force, but throwing drinks at a car is an "unnecessary use of force", too. It's an act of violence that will naturally trigger a response from the police. In this regard I find the last sentence disingenuous, even cynical. What happened to the once great idea of peaceful protests? You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Minister Zhang with Chen Chu, mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan's democracy icon. Photo by Reuters.

There were several other reports of incidents in other parts of Taiwan during Zhang's visit, most notably in Taoyuan, where he arrived, and Wulai, where activists blocked the road (video), and police ruthlessly intervened (and also obstructed the work of accredited reporters). Taiwan Voice, a pro-Taiwan Facebook community, regularly shared unverified photos and reports from the sites of protest (such as here), naturally portraying the clashes with the police in their favor. Taiwan's pro-government media did the same. This was all very predictable, and the main reason why I (mostly) stayed away from the news surrounding Zhang's visit until now. It's rather sad that there was no foreign reporter on site, it could be a good reference in addition to the local reports as to what really happened, and how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and see the bigger picture from an international point of view. Unfortunately when it comes to Cross-Strait relations, neutral reporting is a rare occurrence, even (or should I say especially?) among Western journalists and Taiwan experts. To be fair, there's very little middle ground when it comes to Taiwan's status and its relations with China. If you say Taiwan is an island, or a country, or a province, you're inadvertently making a political statement that will put a pro-China or pro-Taiwan label on you. But I digress.

What did Taiwan gain from Zhang's meeting?

Let's ask ourselves an honest question: Does violence really offer any viable solution here? As much as I admire the passion for democracy and independence by those young activists, throwing bottles and paint at a foreign government representative will not change things in your favor. And the excessive police force and disregard for accredited journalists casts another dark shadow on the current government, that barely anyone sees as capable to lead Taiwan. In light of these two factors, I'm rather pessimistic about what Taiwan really got out of this meeting, but one thing is sure - the discourse in Taiwan has not moved beyond the usual blue-green rhetoric. While protests were expected and necessary, the violence was counterproductive. You can't talk with someone who is shouting, or throwing things at you. If one day we have a green government, and a representative is sent to China for talks, how would Taiwanese feel, if Chinese protesters physically threatened that representative?

Just a thought.

Democracy is not a lifestyle

From Xinhua, original caption says: "Zhang Zhijun jointly picks pawpaws with a farmer while visiting fruit farmers in Shanlin District of Kaohsiung, southeast China's Taiwan, June 27, 2014"

The CCP was probably not very surprised to see how difficult it was for Zhang to convey the communist "One-China" mantra to people of Southern Taiwan, despite his friendly face. Xinhua, China's state press agency and propaganda arm, summarized the trip with a positive spin and with photos that show Zhang in those few rare moments where he wasn't surrounded with protesters. Naturally the images of protests were completely omitted, since the whole trip was more or less a PR stunt. One of Zhang's often heard remarks during this trip was also highlighted:

"The mainland welcomes all regions, parties and religions from Taiwan, to take part in the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, and create more benefit for both sides, as more cross-Strait communications will help to close the mentality gap," Zhang told journalists after meeting Chen. He said the mainland and Taiwan share common historical memories, while different perceptions lead to diverse social systems, values and life styles.

"As the mainland knows that Taiwanese people cherish the social system and lifestyle chosen by their own, it respects the way that Taiwanese people chose," Zhang said.

While the first part of his statement sounds pragmatic and reasonable (aside from "the mainland"), the second part falls back to the usual, albeit subtle, One-China propaganda. Lots of countries have historical memories (Austria-Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia...), and yet they can peacefully coexist side by side as two sovereign and independent countries. This is not reason enough to coerce one country into a federation or submission with another (a good contemporary example is Ukraine standing up against Russia). And what he calls "lifestyle" (meaning democracy, freedom of speech, basic human rights), is actually an achievement of Taiwan's civil society, that resulted in a long and bloody struggle spanning from the late 1940s until late 1990s, and has its origin in the early period of the Japanese occupation (1895-1915). In this regard one must wonder why China doesn't respect the "lifestyle" of Hong Kongers. There can be a hundred visits by Mr. Zhang, but as long as Beijing calls Hong Kong's peaceful struggle for democracy through a referendum an "illegal farce", it will be pretty hard to convince Taiwanese that their "lifestyle" will still be respected, if they one day freely choose to become part of the PRC.

Focus Taiwan reports Mr. Zhang's last day in Taiwan was cut short due to security concerns. And we are back to where we started.

Zhang talks with people from Atayal tribe, photo via Xinhua.

June 22, 2014

, ,

Kaohsiung is Taiwan's scooter capital

Earlier today I have linked to an article on my Facebook page that was related to the future Kaohsiung Light Railway. The first photos have emerged today of what will be Taiwan's version of a tram, something commonly seen all across Europe. I'm a fan of trams, and I welcome such positive developments in Kaohsiung. However due to the widely acknowledged failure of the Kaohsing Metro gaining enough ridership to break even, I'm wondering about whether people will actually ride the new trains, especially because I was under the impression that people in Kaohsiung really ride scooters a lot. My opinions have caused some huffy responses by local expats, one of them even claiming "people in Kaohsiung don't prefer scooters". That remark made me curious. I decided to visit the website of the National Statistics of ROC, and analyze the ownership of scooters and cars by region to see which city or county has the highest density of scooters, and where does Kaohsiung stand among other parts of Taiwan. The website is fairly easy to navigate. I went to this page, selected everything, and exported it as an excel file. I then redesigned the layout, translated everything into English, analyzed the data, and made a few charts which I want to share with you below.

The Taiwanese government is collecting data since the late 1990s.

The data indicates Kaohsiung is the scooter capital of Taiwan

The data, that breaks down vehicle types by region is vast, and my intention is not to analyze every detail, I will mainly focus on passenger cars and motorcycles (which are mostly scooters). Interestingly, the regions with high car ownership (registered cars per 1000 people) are located in Central Taiwan: Taichung, Nantou, and Hsinchu. Scooter ownership on the other hand is the highest in Southern Taiwan: Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Tainan, Chiayi, and Penghu. Interestingly Taipei is far behind, especially in scooter ownership, that's because of the excellent public transportation, that's hasn't found its match elsewhere in the country (and perhaps in the greater region).

With nearly 325 registered passenger cars per 1000 people, Hsinchu County has the highest passenger car registration level in Taiwan. | Click to enlarge.

With 762 registered motorcycles per 1000 people, Pingtung County has the highest motorcycle registration level in Taiwan. | Click to enlarge.

When it comes to the sheer quantity, New Taipei has most registered motorcycles, followed by Kaohsiung and Taichung. | Click to enlarge.

While it's interesting to see an overview of all cities and counties in Taiwan, I think a comparison among larger cities makes much more sense. So let's see which Taiwanese city has the highest scooter registration level of them all:

Kaohsiung is Taiwan's scooter capital. | Click to enlarge.

With 752 registered scooters per 1000 people Kaohsiung is by far the no 1 scooter city in Taiwan, followed by Tainan with 702, and Chiayi with 694 registered scooters per 1000 people. Claiming that the high scooter ownership Kaohsiung is not part of the reason the Metro has failed so far is disingenuous. How big of a problem this is, has to be seen. The good news is that according to the data scooter ownership is in decline all across Taiwan in the past 2 years (and the strongest in Tainan and Kaohsiung, each -8.49% YoY in 2013), while car ownership is on the rise in the past 3 years, +2.4% on average for all of Taiwan.

This table shows that Kaohsiung is 24% above the Taiwanese average of registered motorcycles per 1000 people, Taipei on the other hand is 37% below average. When it comes to car registrations, Taichung is 17% above the Taiwanese average, while New Taipei is 20% below.


While the number of registered scooters in each region is an interesting information, it would be even more interesting to see what is the average usage of a scooter in each part of Taiwan (for example how many kilometers are made on average per year). Maybe people in Kaohsiung register a lot of scooters, but don't use them as often or as extensively as people in other cities? It's possible. Another problem with this data is the fact that many people from smaller counties commute to bigger cities and therefore increase scooter density (for example from Pingtung to Kaohsiung, from Hsinchu County to Hsinchu City). Of course we would need to know the % of these scooter commuters to get a more accurate image, but I think collecting such data would not be very easy (yet not impossible). Kaohsiung is most likely the city with the highest scooter density in Taiwan, a kind of a scooter capital, but take the data with a pinch of salt. What is definitely true is the fact that Southern Taiwan has the highest scooter density, Central Taiwan the highest car density, and Northern Taiwan the best public transportation network.

Will the Kaohsiung light rail finally kill the scooter addiction?

Related: Taiwan Scooterland, What are foreigners doing in Taiwan?

June 8, 2014


Photos from Computex, 2014

The Computex 2014 is over. For me the exhibition stands for more work, and less fun, but I still somehow look forward to it every year, because it breaks the usual office routine. Because I'm working for a big Taiwanese IT company, I spent most of my week with meetings, and parties outside the exhibition area. It almost looked as if I would not have the time to see anything this year at all, but then almost in the last minute I was able to spend an hour at the Nangang Exhibition Center to see what's popular this year, and take some photos. Generally speaking, the Computex is losing its importance and appeal every year. And the trend continued this year as well. Nothing major was launched, there was no exciting news. Sure, there were some trends to observe like wearables, but I think the highlight as usual were the gorgeous show girls, the after parties, and in my case meetings with some long time business partners. And even that has become less, people just don't fly across continents to the Computex for that, if it's not necessary, lots of meetings can be done via conference calls these days. Of course meeting in person is much better for relationship building, but the cost and effort are much higher to make this happen at the Computex. Anyway, let's check out some of my photos to get a little taste of what I saw:

Synology seemed to have the best location: They were right at the entrance.

The main lane on the ground floor, lots of people here.

It didn't take long and I was already enjoying a product presentation on a cat-walk.

Products are secondary when you're around so much female beauty. | Bonus photo

ASUS had one of the busiest booths in Nangang.

Their Zenbook NX500 was one of the highlights of the Computex 2014.

Acer probably had the biggest booth, but the products didn't impress me.

The iPad Mini resembling Iconia Tab 8 was their main attraction.

Colorful plastic Android smartphones resembling iPhone 5c looked quite interesting.

Taking photos with show girls: This is one lucky guy.

There was a Famous Computer company from China visiting this year.

This was a little bizarre for me. What does the company want to say? Confused.

How did you like the Computex this year?

June 7, 2014

, ,

Lost in Romanization, Taiwan's ideological warfare over spelling

The Economist published a piece on Taiwan's problems with Romanization and the political ramifications of hanyu pinyin. The author is exaggerating about the Romanization confusing visitors and expatriate newcomers, but he hits a nerve when he talks about the reasons and consequences of pinyinizing Taiwan:

Officials argue that its use will improve Taiwan’s economic competitiveness by co-ordinating with other Chinese-speaking societies. But some Taiwanese believe this is a ploy by Mr Ma covertly to integrate Taiwan more closely with mainland China.

The commentator nicknamed "sinmmma" put it very well:

The debate of whether to use hanyu pinyin or tongyong pinyin should be based on the ease of pronunciation and accuracy. Tongyong triumphs on both grounds. Hanyu pinyin uses “q” for “ch” sounds, adding to the non-existing bizarre “zh” and “xi” sounds; or spelling “kui” when it is pronounced “kuei”, forms the real barrier in speaking the language. The fact that hanyu pinyin was developed by the communist China in the 1950s and embraced by the rest of the world following the rise of Chinese economic dominance, is no reason to assume its absolute correctness and judge the alternative system purely based on the political ground. As Gandhi once put: an error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody can see it- this piece will render more meaning should it focus its argument on accuracy and facts of the two systems rather than mere feelings and political bias.

I have written about why hanyu pinyin sucks, and why Romanization in Taiwan is good a long while ago, and what I wrote back then still holds true, especially in regards to my mission of highlighting the issues of imposing hanyu pinyin onto Taiwan's official signage, and maps.

And what do Taiwanese netizens think about this issue? Apple Daily, a popular Taiwanese news media, translated the article by The Economist into Chinese, and a vibrant discussion took place on Facebook and on Apple Daily's homepage. This comment represents the mood of your average Taiwanese on this issue most accurately:

馬說跟國際接軌根本就是鬼話. 難道英式英語、美式英語、澳式英語讓各自競爭力變差嗎?更別說兩岸文字跟用語根本就大不相同, 馬自始至終只關心跟中國接軌而已.

Ma saying the integration with international standards is simply nonsense. Do the differences of British English, American English, and Australian English deteriorate their competitiveness? Not to mention the two sides across the strait use very different characters, Ma is from beginning to the end only interested in integration with China, that's all.

May 27, 2014

, ,

My thoughts on the Taipei MRT killing spree

Merely a week ago a young man's heinous crime changed Taiwan: A 21 years old student went on a killing spree in the Taipei MRT, killing 4 people and injuring over 20 with a 30 cm long knife. Taipei, which is nearly free of petty crimes, street violence, let alone massacres of such dimension, was instantly left in utter shock. I've written about the story on my Facebook page, my initial reaction was following:

"I'm in serious shock after I heard about the ‪Taipei‬ MRT knife attack that happened 1h ago, where 3 people were reportedly killed, several injured, among them a small baby. When I saw the photo of a little child full with cuts, my heart sunk, I teared up. It's just so so horrible, I can't comprehend why someone would do something so cruel.

I use the MRT daily, during the weekends also with my child, and now I'm naturally concerned about the safety. But how to prevent stuff like that without slowing down commuting? I have no idea. I won't link to any report, the photos are too horrible. My condolences to the victims.

A sad day for Taipei and Taiwan."

Luckily the image of the injured baby turned out to be a different story, but I still get goose bumps when I remember those images of innocent victims laying on the ground soaking in a puddle of blood. I commute with the Taipei MRT daily, I spend at least 1 and a half hours inside the train, and that's been my routine for several years now. The MRT is for me one of the best things Taipei has to offer, I have never ever had any bad experience aside from minor annoyances like people staring at me, or pushing when they were passing. I've never witnessed a conflict, let alone violence, or vandalism, which is simply amazing considering that 2 million people take the MRT every day, half of them seemingly at peek hours when I'm commuting. I always felt safe and mostly comfortable, often closed my eyes and listened to music or podcasts, or just read the latest news on my iPhone like thousands of Taipeiers were and still are doing it every day. But after the inhumane killings (which I reported on here, here, here, here and here) I feel very insecure. When I learned about the attack, I was busy at work, and I got the news with a 2h delay. It wasn't long after that when I headed home taking the MRT as usual. I was literally frightened, and visibly nervous. I had goose bumps all over my back, they were traveling up and down my spine. I kept looking left and right, I was screening people around me, all young men in my vicinity became possible suspects, I was keeping an eye on them. When you lose the sense of security, it's very hard to get it back. These reactions come naturally, it's a defense mechanism. Immediately after the attack police presence in the MRT increased, you can see policemen on patrol almost in every train now. Do I feel any safer? Not really. This development worries me a lot, because it looks like as if we're turning into a police state. But for now this somewhat makes sense, because there were reports of a plenty of copycats threatening to repeat an attack, from Want China Times:

"At least twelve people have been arrested in Taiwan for posting messages online and showing attempts to imitate Cheng Chieh, a sophomore college student who shocked the country after attacking passengers on a Taipei subway train on May 21, causing four deaths and injuring 22, reports our Chinese-language sister paper China Times.

Police arrested a male college student a day after the knife attack for posting a private message on Facebook that claimed "Cheng Chieh took the Bannan Line (where the incident took place). Let me take care of the Tamsui Line." An unemployed man who posted the online message "I like to try it on Kaohsiung's metro but night markets are more crowded" was also arrested.

In Miaoli county in northern Taiwan, a man has been detained for posting a similar message on his Facebook page in an attempt to boost his number of followers, while a man in Taipei has been arrested after leaving messages saying he regretted not being on the train when Cheng launched the attack and said he would imitate the killer on a crowded bus."

Unfortunately it's difficult to tell who is serious about such things, or just an attention seeker, but I'm also kind of glad that police is acting swiftly, because it will make a lot of people feel safer. The question however is what will happen in a month, or in a year? Will we need to get used to such heavy police presence from now on? A scary thought. Will this really deter deranged individuals from doing something similar? I'm really not sure what to think right now, but I feel like it's become less likely that we won't see such acts of violence in the future. The cat is out of the bag now, this event can only encourage deranged souls to do something similar one day, it's a terrifying precedent, which we won't be able to forget any time soon.

Taipei MRT a day after the attack.

The likelihood of getting stabbed in the MRT is minimal. Every statistic, and every analysis based on facts, logic, and reason will back this up, yet it will take a while before my mind feels at ease. I'm quite sure a lot of Taipeiers are facing the same problem right now, we humans are often guided by emotions, not reason. The anxious faces, the nervous looks, the tightly gripped umbrellas, all that will be gone with time, but Taipei's soul has been scarred, and that scar will be visible for a long long time.